These Co-Founders Want To Disrupt The $80 Billion Soda Industry While Staying True to Their Values
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Romy Raad and Natalie Neumann are the “Meta Mavens” behind Metabrew, a beverage company that’s working to disrupt the $80 billion soft drink industry with its clean, healthy energy drinks. We caught up with Romy and Natalie to discuss what motivated them to start their company, the values that motivate them to push against industry norms, and why they believe every founder needs community to thrive.
What inspired you to start your business?
Romy Raad: Natalie and I moved to New York about four and a half years ago to enroll in a Masters program at Parsons. When we first moved here, we developed health issues due to the food we were eating—we were both used to a clean and organic diet, and we had not been exposed to processed food.
One main issue we struggled with was caffeine—we had long days and classes at night, so we needed caffeine to help us keep up. I have a very sensitive stomach though, so I couldn’t drink coffee or energy drinks, and Natalie was born with a low heart rate, so she ended up drinking seven or eight cups of coffee every day to get through school. We both wanted to drink something that was healthier for us but still gave us the energy we desperately needed, and that’s how we discovered we were both really passionate about clean foods and healthy living.
We researched clean foods and came up with a recipe we both felt comfortable with and could incorporate in our daily routines. It was immediately life-changing for us! Natalie felt and focused, drinking only one coffee per day, and I finally had a drink that gave me energy without upsetting my sensitive stomach—even though we had different needs, we both could drink Metabrew and feel great. Once we tested the recipe with other people and found they had similar results, we decided it was worth it to take our idea to market.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Natalie Neumann: We had to re-formulate and also find a way stay true to our values. When we created Metabrew, we had the product in mind, not the production. We soon learned there were several FDA regulations with which we had to comply in order to sell Metabrew to the public. We knew that we wanted to create a product that was very clean and healthy, but it’s actually really hard to create a product that you can sell to the public without including emulsifiers, acidifiers or preservatives. It took us a long time to formulate a product that only contains good-for-you ingredients and also met FDA standards. We couldn’t understand why we had to change our original recipe, but when we finally discovered a recipe that we could scale, that was one of our greatest achievements.
Romy: We started the company based on our values, and it was really challenging to stick to our values as we grew because investors and others wanted to change our product and make it convenient to the masses. When we first started Metabrew, we had a version that had no sugar or honey, but we received a lot of feedback from buyers wanting us to make our product sweeter. We had to work really hard to create a recipe that tastes good and is craveable, but still allows us to remain true to our values of being clean and plant-based without added sugars.
What’s been the greatest reward?
Romy: The greatest reward is seeing how much of an impact Metabrew has on our community. We receive text messages and emails on a daily basis from people who have tried Metabrew for the first time or are regular customers, and it’s great to see how a product can be life-changing, not just to us and our friends, but to the larger community.
Natalie: We’ve worked really hard, and we’ve won a few pitch competitions, but nothing compares to receiving those messages from customers. It makes us really happy to hear that people are having such positive experiences with Metabrew.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
Natalie: We want our business to reinvent the beverage industry to become mission-based, healthy, accessible and tasty, as well as good for the environment. We want our industry to change for the better: to be more aware of how they produce things and what they produce, how they bring products to customers, and to be healthier in general.
We’re seeing those values take root in urban areas here in the U.S., and the market for healthier products is growing very rapidly. There are a lot of new companies starting amazing products and taking market shares of old players like the soda companies, which create products that aren’t good for us at all. Good, healthy products should be accessible and affordable. And we believe if healthy products are also tasty, people are going to buy them!
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Romy: We keep each other motivated; also of course friends and family who witness our struggle and know exactly what we’re going through. When something doesn’t go the way we want it to, our friends and family help us re-focus on our goals and remind us why we’re doing what we’re doing. Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life!
Natalie: As an entrepreneur, you drive yourself so hard all the time. In order to stay motivated, you have to work on something close to your heart. Having a team that you can bounce ideas off is crucial; it’s great to be surrounded by a good, positive network that can lift you higher.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2016?
Natalie: When we attended the 2016 Intensive, Metabrew was still in its infancy. The samples I brought to the Intensive were from a batch we’d made ourselves—we had no processing technique whatsoever. Since then, we’ve developed products for sale in supermarkets with a much longer shelf life. Metabrew is now available in 70 stores in New York, and we sell our products through our online shop as well.
We also expanded our team and added a marketer/copywriter. We’ve also done some fundraising: we raised a friends and family round, we were runners-up for a Harvard University pitch competition, and we raised money on the crowdfunding site Kiva in only four days! We’re currently participating in the Food Future accelerator, and we were featured on The Pitch this past February. So much has happened since the Intensive—it feels like a lifetime ago!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Natalie: Definitely have at least one co-founder who you really trust, and test the relationship before you decide to become co-founders. Romy and I spent a lot of time together and worked together for almost two years before we started Metabrew. I think having another brain is just the most valuable thing to have when you start out. Also, leverage all the resources for entrepreneurs in your city. We started Metabrew with very little money because there are so many resources for entrepreneurs here in New York City—incubators, accelerators, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and others.
Romy: We also started our own community. Small beverage companies face so many challenges, so we created our own little beverage group with a Slack channel and quarterly happy hours. We’ve been able to help a lot of other founders through this community, and it’s helped us in return—the more generous you are, the more the universe will bring it back to you. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions—when we have a question, we send 20 emails or call 20 people and we take all their answers and can make a more educated decision instead of trying to figure it all out by ourselves. And one thing we like to remind ourselves is never ask for permission—at the end of the day, the more fearless you are, the more empowered you become.
What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
Natalie: Call each other—in the beginning when we started, we overdid it and tried to work nonstop, including through the weekends. We realized we need time off to do things that have nothing to do with our company in order to keep our inspiration and creativity flowing. Plus it gives us a break from each other, so Monday mornings we have a nice ritual to start the week on a fresh note.
Romy: Our personal and work lives are merged during the week, but on Monday mornings it’s nice to for me to tell Natalie what I did over the weekend and hear how her weekend went. Also on Mondays, we work out of our home offices so that we ease into the week and start on a lighter note.
For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Eunice Kim, Founder of Here / Now, a fashion brand for women who love fashionable, but comfortable sneakers. Sold in Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman, Eunice’s furry sneakers are favorites of the fashion set and have been featured by Vogue, WWD and The Coveteur. Eunice chatted with PE about the community she’s built with other female founders, how she was inspired to start her company while working at Vogue, and what she learned from her first meeting with a potential buyer.